The number of internet options available to the average Aussie is getting to the point of being overwhelming, especially if you’re just after a cheap NBN plan.
When shopping around for an internet plan, you’ll notice that most NBN providers offer a six-month discount when you first sign up, and this is a great way to get a cheap deal. An affordable internet plan isn’t always a good one though, particularly if it only comes with a limited amount of data.
To help ensure you get a good internet plan at the best price, we’ve run through our cheap NBN plan recommendations here, or if you want to jump ahead, click the links below:
Noteworthy cheap NBN deals
All of our plan recommendations are detailed below, but before you check them out, here are some good deals you should check out before deciding on an NBN plan:
Best cheap NBN plans
Cheapest NBN plan overall
The lowest-cost NBN plan available
Cheapest NBN plan with unlimited data
The lowest cost with unlimited data
NBN 12 plans compared
Cheap NBN 25
A cheap NBN plan that doesn’t sacrifice speed
NBN 25 plans compared
Cheap NBN 50
Best option for most users
NBN 50 plans compared
Cheap NBN 100
A bump in speed for larger households
NBN 100 plans compared
Cheap NBN 250
For super-fast internet, consider this
NBN 250 plans compared
Cheap NBN 1000
The fastest you can get, but only available in select locations
NBN 1000 plans compared
Cheap NBN plans: major telcos
If you’re looking for the cheapest options available for the major providers, we’ve outlined them below. While they aren’t as affordable as other budget ISPs, they tend to perform well, and come with optional added perks:
Ransomware is a type of malware that locks a device, encrypts content on the device or web hosting and then blackmails the user to pay a ransom to regain access to its content.
And of course, devices are not just cell phones and computers, they are servers and the Internet of Things (IoT). Therefore, in case of ransomware infection (and non-existent or non-functional backups), the company loses access to, for example, invoices and customers.
This form of attack may temporarily interrupt the company’s work or production process. Depending on the business or organization, the ransomware attack is likely to have consequences for its customers , which may eventually lead them to turn to a competitor.
According to ESET , companies often consider ransomware to be the biggest security problem. However, this is not necessarily because ransomware attacks are more common than other forms of cyber-attack, but because such attacks are often widely publicized.
Thus, even someone who has never experienced an ransomware attack can realize that such cyber attacks pose a serious threat.
How does Ransomware get into the PC?
The most common way an ransomware attacks a computer is through phishing, in which “suspicious” emails are sent to users, camouflaged in newsletters from banks or other entities, with attachments, url links and text.
In such a case, the ransomware infects the PC the moment the user decides to install the “unknown” program requested! With the installation, the user gives the program permission to gain administrator access and therefore complete control of the device.
* More aggressive hosting programs – such as NotPetya – take advantage of vulnerabilities in the operating system and attack the system without requiring user access.
Files appear as “inaccessible” and can only be restored by providing the decryption key held by the ransomware developer.
Another way of cheating is when the victim receives a notification from a Security Agency (eg Police, Cybercrime Prosecution, etc.) to be fined for violating the law by engaging in illegal online activities, such as the presence of pornographic software, software. etc. In this way, the perpetrators “persuade” the users much easier to repay the price and automatically avoid the alleged denunciation of their action to the Authorities.
In the same context, in order to immediately pay the ransom “hostage” and at the same time to silence this criminal act, the perpetrators resort to the so-called leakware or doxware, in which sensitive personal data of the user is stolen, threatening to be made public, if not the necessary amount is deposited.
Who is at risk from the “hostage” of files and data?
Perpetrators usually select their victims, based on the security strength of the system. An educational institution may not have invested time and money in setting up an impregnable security wall for its digital activities, which include a large volume of files and data that are distributed throughout the day.
In addition, organizations that have a large amount of sensitive information – such as government agencies, medical laboratories and pharmaceutical companies, law firms, etc. – in case of “hostage” of their data, they are more likely to mobilize to repay the price, for their immediate security.
Email remains the most common form of ransomware infection
While ransomware infection often starts with a click on a suspicious link or fake invoice, ESET has found that email remains the most common method of distribution in a two-step process, with a download program delivered first, followed by ransomware as secondary infection.
The need to raise employee awareness about safety
It is not clear whether successful ransomware attacks are due to the ability of the attackers or the negligence of employees. Some types of ransomware are highly sophisticated, while others are not.
The risk of ransomware infection is one of the many reasons why companies should focus on educating their employees on cybersecurity so they know what links to click and what to do if they have already done so. some security mistake.
Unequal distribution of investments in security issues
Some companies spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on various advanced security solutions, but not a few thousand more on well-trained staff who will be responsible for developing and managing network security measures.
Instead, companies often choose to acknowledge that there are security vulnerabilities and make this decision because they do not expect to be attacked by ransomware.
The basic rules to follow
According to ESET, the basic rules you need to follow to avoid data loss are:
Make frequent backups of your data and keep at least one full backup offline.
Keep all your software – including operating systems – repaired and up to date.
However, holistic coverage should be the first goal of any comprehensive cyber security strategy. This starts with a reliable and multi-layered endpoint protection solution , followed by continuous maintenance and best security practices.
FOR HISTORY: In 1989, the first ransomware attack was carried out with… the postman
The first documented case of ransomware occurred in 1989. It was called the AIDS Trojan and spread through thousands of floppy disks sent by mail. These diskettes reported that they contained a database of AIDS and the risk factors associated with the disease.
In fact, the floppy disks contained malware, which disabled users’ access to much of the contents of the hard disk. The AIDS Trojan demanded a ransom (or, as the message called it, a “license payment”) of $ 189, which was to be sent to a post office box in Panama. Responsible for this ransomware was considered Dr. Joseph Popp.
BELGRADE, Serbia — When Covid-19 reached Eastern Europe in the spring of 2020, a Serbian journalist reported a severe shortage of masks and other protective equipment. She was swiftly arrested, thrown in a windowless cell and charged with inciting panic.
The journalist, Ana Lalic, was quickly released and even got a public apology from the government in what seemed like a small victory against old-style repression by Serbia’s authoritarian president, Aleksandar Vucic.
But Ms. Lalic was then vilified for weeks as a traitor by much of the country’s news media, which has come increasingly under the control of Mr. Vucic and his allies as Serbia adopts tactics favored by Hungary and other states now in retreat from democracy across Europe’s formerly communist eastern fringe.
“For the whole nation, I became a public enemy,” she recalled.
Serbia no longer jails or kills critical journalists, as happened under the rule of Slobodan Milosevic in the 1990s. It now seeks to destroy their credibility and ensure few people see their reports.
The muting of critical voices has greatly helped Mr. Vucic — and also the country’s most well-known athlete, the tennis star Novak Djokovic, whose visa travails in Australia have been portrayed as an intolerable affront to the Serb nation. The few remaining outlets of the independent news media mostly support him but take a more balanced approach.
Across the region, from Poland in the north to Serbia in the south, Eastern Europe has become a fertile ground for new forms of censorship that mostly eschew brute force but deploy gentler yet effective tools to constrict access to critical voices and tilt public opinion — and therefore elections — in favor of those in power.
Television has become so biased in support of Mr. Vucic, according to Zoran Gavrilovic, the executive director of Birodi, an independent monitoring group, that Serbia has “become a big sociological experiment to see just how far media determines opinion and elections.”
Serbia and Hungary — countries in the vanguard of what V-Dem Institute, a Swedish research group, described last year as a “global wave of autocratization” — both hold general elections in April, votes that will test whether media control works.
A recent Birodi survey of news reports on Serbian television found that over a three-month period from September, Mr. Vucic was given more than 44 hours of coverage, 87 percent of it positive, compared with three hours for the main opposition party, 83 percent of which was negative.
Nearly all of the negative coverage of Mr. Vucic appeared on N1, an independent news channel that broadcast Ms. Lalic’s Covid-19 reports. But a bitter war for market share is playing out between the cable provider that hosts N1 — Serbian Broadband, or SBB — and the state-controlled telecommunications company, Telekom Srbija.
Telekom Srbija recently made a move that many saw as an unfair effort to make SBB less attractive to consumers when it snagged from SBB the rights to broadcast English soccer by offering to pay 700 percent more for them.
Telekom Srbija’s offer, nearly $700 million for six seasons, is an astronomical amount for a country with only seven million people — and nearly four times what a media company in Russia, a far bigger market, has agreed to pay the Premier League each season for broadcast rights.
“It is very difficult to compete if you have a competitor that does not really care about profit,” SBB’s chief executive, Milija Zekovic, said in an interview.
Telekom Srbija declined to make its executives available for comment, but in public statements, the company has described its investments in English soccer and elsewhere as driven by commercial concerns, not politics.
“Their goal is to kill SBB,” Dragan Solak, the chairman of SBB’s parent company, United Group, said in an interview in London. “In the Balkans,” he added, “you do not want to be a bleeding shark.”
Eager to stay in the game, Mr. Solak announced this month that a private investment company he controls had bought Southampton FC, an English Premier League soccer team. Broadcast rights for the league will stay with his state-controlled rival, but part of the huge sum it agreed to pay for them will now pass to Mr. Solak.
Government loyalists run Serbia’s five main free-to-air television channels, including the supposedly neutral public broadcaster, RTS. The only television outlets in Serbia that give airtime to the opposition and avoid hagiographic coverage of Mr. Vucic are Mr. Solak’s cable news channel N1, which is affiliated with CNN, and his TV Nova.
Without them, Mr. Solak said, Serbia “will be heading into the dark ages like North Korea.”
Space for critical media has been shrinking across the region, with V-Dem Institute, the Swedish research group, now ranking Serbia, Poland and Hungary among its “top 10 autocratizing countries,” citing “assaults on the judiciary and restrictions on the media and civil society.” Freedom House now classifies Serbia as “partly free.”
In each country, security forces — the primary tools for muzzling critical voices during the communist era — have been replaced in this role by state-controlled and state-dependent companies that exert often irresistible pressure on the news media.
Poland’s governing party, Law and Justice, has turned the country’s public broadcaster, TVP, into a propaganda bullhorn, while a state-run oil company has taken over a string of regional newspapers, though some national print outlets still regularly assail the government.
In December, Law and Justice pushed through legislation that would have squeezed out the only independent television news channel, the American-owned TVN24, but the Polish president, worried about alienating Washington, vetoed the bill.
Hungary has gone further, gathering hundreds of news outlets into a holding company controlled by allies of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Only one television station with national reach is critical of Mr. Orban and financially independent from his government.
Mr. Orban’s previously divided political rivals have formed a united front to fight elections in April but have been unsuccessful in shaking his stranglehold on the news media.
In Serbia, the media space for critical voices has shrunk so far, said Zoran Sekulic, the founder and editor of FoNet, an independent news agency, that “the level of control, direct and indirect, is like in the 1990s” under Mr. Milosevic, whom Mr. Vucic served as information minister.
Journalists, Mr. Sekulic added, do not get killed anymore, but the system of control endures, only “upgraded and improved” to ensure fawning coverage without brute force.
When United Group started a relatively opposition-friendly newspaper last year, it could not find a printer in Serbia willing to touch it. The newspaper is printed in neighboring Croatia and sent into Serbia.
Dragan Djilas, the leader of Serbia’s main opposition party and formerly a media executive, complained that while Mr. Vucic could talk for hours without interruption on Serbia’s main television channels, opposition politicians appeared mostly only as targets for attack. “I am like an actor in a silent movie,” he said.
N1, the only channel that sometimes lets him talk, is widely watched in Belgrade, the capital, but is blocked in many towns and cities where mayors are members of Mr. Vucic’s party. Even in Belgrade, the cable company that hosts the channel has faced trouble entering new housing projects built by property developers with close ties to the government. A huge new housing area under construction for security officials near Belgrade, for example, has refused to install SBB’s cable, the company said.
Viewers of pro-government channels “live in a parallel universe,” said Zeljko Bodrozic, the president of the Independent Journalists Association of Serbia. Channels like TV Pink, the most popular national station, which features sexually explicit reality shows and long statements by Mr. Vucic, he said, “don’t just indoctrinate, but make people stupid.”
The European Union and the United States have repeatedly rebuked Mr. Vucic over the lack of media pluralism, but, eager to keep Serbia from embracing Russia or stoking unrest in neighboring Bosnia, have not pushed hard.
This has given Mr. Vucic a largely free hand to expand the media control that Rasa Nedeljkov, the program director in Belgrade for the Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability, described as “the skeleton of his whole system.” In some ways, he added, Serbia’s space for critical media is now smaller than it was under Mr. Milosevic, who “didn’t really care about having total control” and left various regional outlets untouched.
“Vucic is now learning from this mistake by Milosevic,” Mr. Nedeljkov said. Mr. Vucic and his allies, Mr. Nedeljkov added, “are not tolerating anything that is different.”
Once powerful independent voices have gradually been co-opted. The radio station B92, which regularly criticized Mr. Milosevic during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, for example, is now owned by a supporter of Mr. Vucic and mostly parrots the government line.
Journalists and others who upset Mr. Vucic face venomous attacks by tabloid newspapers loyal to the authorities. Mr. Solak, the United Group chairman, for example, has been denounced as “Serbia’s biggest scammer,” a crook gnawing at the country “like scabies” and a traitor working for Serbia’s foreign foes.
Mr. Solak, who lives outside Serbia because of safety concerns, said he had become such a regular target for abuse that when he does not get attacked, “my friends call me and ask: What happened? Are you OK?”
With Christmas looming you probably have things you’d rather be thinking about right now than broadband deals. But if your current contract just came to an end or you’ve noticed that you’re paying through the teeth for a rolling agreement, it’s worth spending a few brief minutes to check out Vodafone’s latest offer.
Sign up to the company’s Superfast 1 plan now, and all you’ll have to pay is a mere £19 per month. Nothing upfront, no delivery or connection charges – just monthly bills of less than £20 to secure average fibre speeds of 38Mb.
That’s a very eye-catching price. But it’s worth knowing that for an extra quid a month, you can upgrade to Vodafone’s Superfast 2 plan and come close to doubling your average connection speeds (stated at 65Mb).
Which you go for will depend on the internet usage in your home. If it’s just you or a couple and you just like to stream the odd Netflix binge and leisurely surf the web, then Superfast 1 may be enough. Superfast 2 will suit large households packed with gamers, streamers, downloaders and home workers – and it’s only £1 a month more for arguably the best fibre broadband deal in the UK.
MANILA — The death toll from a powerful typhoon that struck the Philippines last week is continuing to rise as rescuers reach more devastated areas, with more than 140 people now believed to have been killed, officials said on Sunday.
About half of the 142 deaths reported so far from Super Typhoon Rai were in the island province of Bohol in the central Visayas region, a tourist destination known for its diving spots and coral reefs.
The governor of Bohol, Arthur Yap, said that as of noon Sunday, the typhoon was believed to have killed 72 people in the province, a toll based on field reports from community leaders.
“It is very clear that the damage sustained by Bohol is great and all-encompassing,” Mr. Yap said. He said he had seen vast destruction of coastal communities in an aerial survey aboard a military plane.
The Philippines’ national disaster agency, which often takes time to confirm deaths reported by officials around the country, was still reporting a count of 31 deaths from the typhoon on Sunday, a toll that did not reflect the figures provided by Mr. Yap and from other areas.
The central province of Cebu and Cagayan de Oro city on the island of Mindanao were also among the worst-hit areas, and just off Mindanao, officials were trying to get aid to the island of Siargao, a popular surfing destination.
The typhoon made landfall on the island on Thursday, with gusts of up to 168 miles per hour, before tearing west across the country. Rai was classified as a super typhoon after reaching land, a designation comparable to a Category 5 hurricane in the United States.
Siargao was still cut off as of Sunday. Message boards on social media filled up with the names of people who were still unaccounted for.
The typhoon, known as Odette under the Philippines’ separate naming system, was the 15th to hit the country this year. It dumped heavy rain over large areas, and large parts of the central and southern Philippines sustained damage, with many waterways overflowing their banks.
The chairman of the Philippine Red Cross, Senator Richard Gordon, said Rai was one of the strongest storms ever known to have struck the Philippines, which endures an average of 20 typhoons a year.
“Red Cross emergency teams are reporting complete carnage in the coastal areas. Homes, hospitals, schools and community buildings have been ripped to shreds,” he said in a statement. “Our volunteers are providing urgent relief for people who have lost everything, including food, drinking water, first aid, medical care, and somewhere safe to shelter.”
The most powerful storm on record in the Philippines was Super Typhoon Haiyan, which killed about 6,500 people and caused widespread destruction in 2013.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has started an emergency appeal for nearly $22 million to finance relief and recovery efforts for an estimated 400,000 people in the Philippines affected by Rai.
In Bohol, Mr. Yap said that provincial workers were working overtime to restore power and telecommunications facilities, and that many residents did not have access to clean drinking water.
He said a Philippine Navy vessel would ship out from Manila on Monday with emergency aid for Bohol, but he appealed for more help from the national government, citing in particular the need for generators to run water refilling stations across the island.
More than 70,000 Indian exporters, who are part of Amazon India’s ‘Global Selling program’, will showcase millions of ‘Made in India’ products customers world-wide during the annual Black Friday and Cyber Monday (BFCM) sale.
According to Amazon India, the country’s exporters are launching over 52,000 new products on Amazon’s global websites for the upcoming holiday season. Also, to make things easy for sellers in India, Amazon Global Selling has introduced language support for them in Hindi and Tamil
The Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales start on November 25 and end on November 29.
Amazon Global Selling program nets $3 billion
Black Friday and Cyber Monday, though not big in India, are significant sale events marking the beginning of the holiday season in the USA and many other countries.
Amazon works with Indian exporters to help them identify key holiday shopping trends to bring in relevant product assortment. It also supports them with logistics solutions and guides them to market their products through a range of deals and advertising options.
Amazon India said customers globally will be able to discover a range of products from Indian exporters across categories including home and kitchen, STEM toys, apparel, health and personal care, office products, jewelry, beauty and furniture.
For the record, during the BFCM sale in 2020, Indian exporters on Global Selling saw a 50% YOY growth in sales. More than 300 sellers crossed Rs 10 lakh in sales during the 2020 sale period.
Amazon Global Selling is its flagship program to help Indian MSMEs to start or expand their exports business using eCommerce. Launched in India in 2015 through Amazon’s international websites and marketplaces, there are, at present, more than 70,000 exporters across India on the program who get to showcase millions of Made in India products to customers in 200+ countries.
Amazon India says Indian MSMEs exporting through the program have surpassed $3 billion in cumulative sales till now.
Earlier this year, Amazon India set up $250 million fund for small, medium businesses in the country. The commitments were a further step in Amazon’s pledge of digitizing 10 million SMBs, enabling $10 billion in exports from India, and creating 1 million jobs by 2025.
Support for exporters in Hindi and Tamil
Meanwhile, Amazon India, as part of its Global Selling program, has introduced language support for sellers in Hindi and Tamil. Entrepreneurs from anywhere in India can launch and manage their export businesses entirely in Hindi and Tamil.
Amazon said it worked with experts in respective languages “to develop an accurate and comprehensible experience for sellers”.
From registering and KYC processes to managing orders, product pages, inventory and seller central will be available in these two languages (apart from English).
Additionally, sellers can also get assistance with their queries in Hindi and Tamil through Seller Support. This new feature is currently live for sellers selling on Amazon.com marketplace and will soon be enabled for other global marketplaces as well, the company said.
Sellers who wish to change their preferred language can do it in a few simple steps on Seller Central, once logged in. More regional Indian languages will be added to this program, Amazon said.
KISANFU, Democratic Republic of Congo — Just up a red dirt road, across an expanse of tall, dew-soaked weeds, bulldozers are hollowing out a yawning new canyon that is central to the world’s urgent race against global warming.
For more than a decade, the vast expanse of untouched land was controlled by an American company. Now a Chinese mining conglomerate has bought it, and is racing to retrieve its buried treasure: millions of tons of cobalt.
At 73, Kyahile Mangi has lived here long enough to predict the path ahead. Once the blasting starts, the walls of mud-brick homes will crack. Chemicals will seep into the river where women do laundry and dishes while worrying about hippo attacks. Soon a manager from the mine will announce that everyone needs to be relocated.
“We know our ground is rich,” said Mr. Mangi, a village chief who also knows residents will share little of the mine’s wealth.
This wooded stretch of southeast Democratic Republic of Congo, called Kisanfu, holds one of the largest and purest untapped reserves of cobalt in the world.
The gray metal, typically extracted from copper deposits, has historically been of secondary interest to miners. But demand is set to explode worldwide because it is used in electric-car batteries, helping them run longer without a charge.
Outsiders discovering — and exploiting — the natural resources of this impoverished Central African country are following a tired colonial-era pattern. The United States turned to Congo for uranium to help build the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and then spent decades, and billions of dollars, seeking to protect its mining interests here.
Now, with more than two-thirds of the world’s cobalt production coming from Congo, the country is once again taking center stage as major automakers commit to battling climate change by transitioning from gasoline-burning vehicles to battery-powered ones. The new automobiles rely on a host of minerals and metals often not abundant in the United States or the oil-rich Middle East, which sustained the last energy era.
But the quest for Congo’s cobalt has demonstrated how the clean energy revolution, meant to save the planet from perilously warming temperatures in an age of enlightened self-interest, is caught in a familiar cycle of exploitation, greed and gamesmanship that often puts narrow national aspirations above all else, an investigation by The New York Times found.
The Times dispatched reporters across three continents drawn into the competition for cobalt, a relatively obscure raw material that along with lithium, nickel and graphite has gained exceptional value in a world trying to set fossil fuels aside.
More than 100 interviews and thousands of pages of documents show that the race for cobalt has set off a power struggle in Congo, a storehouse of these increasingly prized resources, and lured foreigners intent on dominating the next epoch in global energy.
In particular, a rivalry between China and the United States could have far-reaching implications for the shared goal of safeguarding the earth. At least here in Congo, China is so far winning that contest, with both the Obama and Trump administrations having stood idly by as a company backed by the Chinese government bought two of the country’s largest cobalt deposits over the past five years.
As the significance of those purchases becomes clearer, China and the United States have entered a new “Great Game” of sorts. This past week, during a visit promoting electric vehicles at a General Motors factory in Detroit, President Biden acknowledged the United States had lost some ground. “We risked losing our edge as a nation, and China and the rest of the world are catching up,” he said. “Well, we’re about to turn that around in a big, big way.”
China Molybdenum, the new owner of the Kisanfu site since late last year, bought it from Freeport-McMoRan, an American mining giant with a checkered history that five years ago was one of the largest producers of cobalt in Congo — and now has left the country entirely.
In June, just six months after the sale, the Biden administration warned that China might use its growing dominance of cobalt to disrupt the American push toward electric vehicles by squeezing out U.S. manufacturers. In response, the United States is pressing for access to cobalt supplies from allies, including Australia and Canada, according to a national security official with knowledge of the matter.
American automakers like Ford, General Motors and Tesla buy cobalt battery components from suppliers that depend in part on Chinese-owned mines in Congo. A Tesla longer-range vehicle requires about 10 pounds of cobalt, more than 400 times the amount in a cellphone.
Already, tensions over minerals and metals are rattling the electric vehicle market.
Deadly rioting in July near a port in South Africa, where much of Congo’s cobalt is exported to China and elsewhere, caused a global jump in the metal’s prices, a surge that only worsened through the rest of the year.
Last month, the mining industry’s leading forecaster said the rising cost of raw materials was likely to drive up battery costs for the first time in years, threatening to disrupt automakers’ plans to attract customers with competitively priced electric cars.
Jim Farley, Ford’s chief executive, said the mineral supply crunch needed to be confronted.
“We have to solve these things,” he said at an event in September, “and we don’t have much time.”
Automakers like Ford are spending billions of dollars to build their own battery plants in the United States, and are rushing to curb the need for newly mined cobalt by developing lithium iron phosphate substitutes or turning to recycling. As a result, a Ford spokeswoman said, “we do not see cobalt as a constraining issue.”
Increased mining and refining of cobalt by Chinese companies has helped meet the growing demand and advanced the fight against climate change. But as more electric vehicles are produced by more automakers worldwide, the International Energy Agency expects a cobalt shortage by 2030, based on an analysis of existing mines and those under construction. Other forecasters say a shortage could hit as soon as 2025.
A review by The Times of documents filed with regulatory authorities in China shows the acquisitions in Congo have followed a disciplined playbook, announced with great fanfare by Beijing in 2015, to dominate the world’s emerging clean energy economy.
As of last year, 15 of the 19 cobalt-producing mines in Congo were owned or financed by Chinese companies, according to a data analysis by The Times and Benchmark Mineral Intelligence. The biggest alternative to Chinese operators is Glencore, a Switzerland-based company that runs two of the largest cobalt mines there.
These Chinese companies have received at least $12 billion in loans and other financing from state-backed institutions, and are likely to have drawn billions more. In fact, the five biggest Chinese mining companies in Congo had lines of credit from state-backed banks that totaled $124 billion, according to the documents reviewed by The Times, even though one of them, China Molybdenum, described itself as “a pure business entity” traded on two stock exchanges.
China’s goal is to control the global supply chain from the metals in the ground to the batteries themselves, no matter where the vehicles are made. The approach, in part, echoes Henry Ford’s investments in Amazonian rubber plantations as the auto industry turned to mass production in the early 20th century.
The forested mine site at Kisanfu was just one of two major purchases in recent years by China Molybdenum. The first came in 2016, when it took control of Tenke Fungurume, a mine that on its own produces twice as much cobalt as any other country in the world. At least $1.59 billion of the $2.65 billion Tenke Fungurume price tag, financial records show, came from loans provided by Chinese state-owned banks.
As the Chinese were stepping up their focus on green energy in 2016, the soon-to-be U.S. president, Donald J. Trump, was extolling the fossil fuel industry, campaigning in West Virginia with a hard hat and shovel and falsely promising coal miners that “you’re going to be working your asses off!” After taking office, Mr. Trump would roll back requirements on American automakers intended to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, giving the Chinese an even wider lane.
“It is pretty heartbreaking what happened here,” said Nicole Widdersheim, who worked on Africa issues for the National Security Council during the Trump administration. “Just so stupid.”
The frenzy for Congo’s cobalt has attracted an international cast of opportunists, luminaries and shadowy characters eager to benefit. At one point, it also drew in a Chinese-based private equity firm that Hunter Biden helped found and that was later scrutinized in the 2020 presidential campaign.
At the same time, Chinese companies are running into new headwinds from Congo’s government, according to documents obtained by The Times and interviews with current and former senior U.S. officials.
Congolese officials are carrying out a broad review of past mining contracts, work they are doing with financial help from the American government as part of its broader anti-corruption effort. They are examining whether companies are fulfilling their contractual obligations, including a 2008 commitment from China to deliver billions of dollars’ worth of new roads, bridges, power plants and other infrastructure.
Congo’s president, Felix Tshisekedi, in August named a commission to investigate allegations that China Molybdenum, the company that bought the two Freeport-McMoRan properties, might have cheated the Congolese government out of billions of dollars in royalty payments. The company risks being expelled from Congo.
At the Tenke Fungurume mine, there have long been problems associated with trespassers from nearby villages scavenging for cobalt. After China Molybdenum called on the government to help, Congolese troops fired on a trespasser inside the mine’s gates, killing him, as well as a second person who was shot after riots broke out in protest, witnesses and local officials told The Times.
Separately, at least a dozen employees or contractors at the mine told The Times that Chinese ownership had led to a drastic decline in safety and an increase in injuries, many of which were not reported to management. Two Congolese safety officers said workers were assaulted after they raised concerns and were offered bribes to cover up accidents.
“Things are falling apart in terms of safety,” said Alfred Kiloko Makeba, who retired last year after a decade working as a safety supervisor at the mine.
Vincent Zhou, a spokesman for China Molybdenum, rejected claims that the company had cheated the Congolese government or relaxed safety standards, saying the opposite was true, and questioned if there was an organized effort to undermine the company.
China has an idiom that goes something like: “Where there is a will to condemn, evidence will follow,” Mr. Zhou said in a written response to The Times. “Vaguely I feel that we may be caught in the gaming of greater powers.”
A Presidential Connection
African countries for years have been turning to China for help building infrastructure with loans or trades involving their natural resources — deals that analysts warn provide far more benefit to the Chinese.
A blueprint for those deals, now common across the continent, was sketched out in 2005 when Joseph Kabila walked into the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
Mr. Kabila, then just 33, was the new president of Congo after the assassination of his father, another tragic milepost on the poverty-stricken country’s road of violence and political disruption.
China was familiar territory for Mr. Kabila, who had received military training there in the late 1990s. This visit was about enlisting the help of President Hu Jintao in turning around Congo’s economy.
The United States, which had long provided economic and military assistance to Congo, was locked in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and had become increasingly uninterested in the country. Congo’s poor record on graft and human rights was also scaring away many international banks and Western investors.
Mr. Kabila’s wish list was long: He wanted new roads, schools and hospitals as part of a revival plan that, he hoped, would endear him back home to a nation exhausted and dispirited by years of conflict and corruption.
In exchange, he was prepared to offer up his country’s vast mineral wealth — unparalleled in much of the world.
In the imposing hall on Tiananmen Square, the two presidents outlined a deal that would change Central Africa’s balance of power, according to André Kapanga, a former adviser to Mr. Kabila who offered details of the meeting for the first time in an interview with The Times.
Mr. Hu explained that many people in China’s western provinces lived in deep poverty. Developing the area was a cornerstone of his domestic policy, and he needed minerals and metals to build out new industries. Congo was ready to help, Mr. Kabila assured him.
China had already acquired raw materials from Congo’s neighbor, Angola, where it offered generous financial support in exchange for oil.
But this potential deal with Mr. Kabila was more ambitious than any other, and a diplomatic drama would play out at the riverside Palais de la Nation in the capital of Kinshasa before it was sealed.
The setting was Mr. Kabila’s inauguration in 2006, after he stood before voters in a formal election and won the presidency. The Bush administration sent a delegation led by Elaine Chao, then the secretary of labor.
Mr. Kabila liked motorcycles, and she presented him with a Harley-Davidson trinket when she greeted him at a lunch. That would be the extent of their interaction, Ms. Chao believed, but members of her delegation urged her to ask for a private meeting, according to Laura Genero, an associate deputy labor secretary who was on the trip. To her surprise, Mr. Kabila complied with a meeting the next day.
Ms. Chao was so unprepared for the invitation that she had to borrow a beige pantsuit from Ms. Genero. She had packed just one work outfit.
The U.S. delegation congratulated Mr. Kabila on his democratic victory and listened as he talked about wanting to expand access to electricity across the nation. One of his aides characterized the meeting as mostly small talk.
But a similar meeting between the new president and Chinese officials played out differently, according to Mr. Kapanga, who was briefed on both the U.S. and Chinese discussions.
The Chinese used the opportunity to begin formal talks with Mr. Kabila that would result in a $6 billion agreement: China would pay for roads, hospitals, rail lines, schools and projects to expand electricity, all in exchange for access to 10 million tons of copper and more than 600,000 tons of cobalt.
The local media called it the “the deal of the century,” and while Mr. Kabila celebrated the agreement, the global financial community reacted more warily, worried Congo was taking on too much debt.
American officials marveled at the deal’s historic scale. In secret cables made public by WikiLeaks, they noted that previous Chinese investment in Congo had been “an informal, somewhat disorganized collection of Chinese businesses” that did not seriously threaten U.S. interests.
Now something much grander was in the making: “2,000 miles of roadway linking Orientale and Katanga provinces, 31 hospitals, 145 health centers, two large universities and 5,000 government housing units are pledged,” according to a cable in 2008 from the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa to members of the Central Intelligence Agency, the secretary of state and other officials.
“And that’s not all,” the cable continued.
Attracting a Phoenix
By 2015, China’s presence in Congo had become visible in numerous infrastructure projects: Soccer stadiums rose from the dust, roadways were expanded, work began on water treatment facilities.
But not all of its progress in cornering the cobalt market could be measured in brick and mortar. The Chinese ambassador at the time, Wang Tongqing, kicked off an American-style diplomatic blitz.
Mr. Wang threw out the jump ball that year at a Chinese corporate basketball tournament that drew Congolese spectators.
He gave out scholarships to Congolese students to study in China and was on hand when a Chinese organization donated plane tickets for a Congolese choir to tour his country. At one point, he offered $1 million for Ebola relief in Congo.
Mr. Wang’s activities coincided with the 2015 rollout of his country’s “Made in China 2025” policy, which detailed China’s plan to transform itself into a “manufacturing superpower” in 10 areas, including batteries for electric vehicles.
Almost instantly a tidal wave of government-backed capital poured into Chinese companies in Congo and elsewhere. Deals quickly followed.
That year, the state-owned China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group said it would partner with Congo’s state mining company, Gécamines, to develop the Deziwa site, then one of the largest copper and cobalt concessions in the country.
In 2017, Zijin Mining, a Chinese state-backed company with a slogan of “Harmony Begets Wealth,” raised almost $700 million from a sale of private shares to develop its Kolwezi mine.
Public statements about the deals signaled some of China’s ambition, but the history and scale of the effort have not been previously reported.
Corporate filings, including annual reports and bond prospectuses, examined by The Times show that the five biggest Chinese companies in Congo had been given at least $124 billion in credit lines for their global operations. All of the companies are state-owned or have significant minority stakes held by various levels of the Chinese government.
“Unlike the U.S., the Chinese government is always behind Chinese investors in Africa and more specifically in D.R.C.,” said Mr. Kapanga, the former adviser to Mr. Kabila.
The biggest deal came in April 2016, when China Molybdenum, a company whose biggest shareholders are a government-owned company and a reclusive billionaire, made its $2.65 billion offer to buy Tenke Fungurume, an American-owned mine atop one of the biggest cobalt reserves in the world.
There was one complication. Freeport-McMoRan had a Canadian partner that had the right of first offer to buy its stake. China Molybdenum’s solution was to have a Shanghai-based private equity firm buy out the partner, but even that deal relied on money from the Chinese government.
None of the $1.14 billion raised to buy the partner’s share came from private investors, company filings show. Instead, it came from Chinese state-controlled entities, including from bank loans guaranteed by China Molybdenum as well as cash brought to the deal through obscure shell companies controlled by government-owned banks, according to the filings.
The board of the private equity firm, commonly known as BHR, was dominated by Chinese members but also included three Americans: Devon Archer, a businessman who later was convicted of defrauding the Oglala Sioux tribe in a case still working through the legal system, and James Bulger, son of the former president of the Massachusetts State Senate.
Another was Hunter Biden, whose father was vice president at the time.
It is not clear if Mr. Biden, who had helped found the firm in 2013, was involved in the deal. Mr. Biden did not respond to requests for comment. A former member of the BHR board, who was not authorized to speak about internal business matters, said that none of the Americans had played a role and that the fees generated for the work had not been distributed to Mr. Biden or others. A spokesman for President Biden on Friday said he had not been made aware of his son’s connection to the sale.
How and why the firm had become involved was a mystery to the chief executive who negotiated the sale for Freeport-McMoRan’s Canadian-based partner, Lundin Mining.
“Were they a partner, their adviser or a financier? I don’t know,” said Paul Conibear, then Lundin’s chief executive.
An elaborate event under white tents in Kinshasa celebrated China’s new ownership in May 2017. Mr. Wang was there along with Chinese officials who had helped finance the purchase — and a host of Chinese government-affiliated bankers looking to make even more mining deals.
Within a few years, they would help orchestrate China Molybdenum’s purchase of Kisanfu, the huge untapped cobalt reserve, from the same American mining giant. Together the sales marked a changing of the guard in Congo as the United States abandoned its mining interests — a problem that now weighs on President Biden as he and his aides have come to realize the extent of China’s dominance in clean energy.
“The D.R.C. has a vast territory, rich natural resources and great investment potential,” Mr. Wang told the crowd. “A Chinese proverb says, ‘Build a beautiful nest to attract the phoenix.’”
‘Safety Is Just on Paper’
At first, the changes seemed almost trivial at Tenke Fungurume — a 24-hour operation that employs more than 7,000 across a landscape the size of Los Angeles marked by deep craters and dust kicked up by earth-moving vehicles.
The new Chinese managers showed up in shorts and sneakers, a shock to employees who had been required to wear steel-toed boots and safety goggles.
“We were like, ‘Oh, this is not possible,’” said Pierrot Kitobo Sambisaya, who worked as a metallurgist at the mine for a decade until 2019 and had grown accustomed to a stricter environment.
Soon, work anniversaries came and went with no recognition. Holiday parties where workers’ families were invited to tour the mine no longer took place. Dozens of janitor and driver jobs once held by Congolese citizens went to the Chinese.
That was just the start. Employees were concerned that the mine was also becoming more dangerous, according to interviews with workers in communities surrounding the mine, current and former safety inspectors, Congolese government officials and mining executives.
Workers climbed into acid tanks to conduct repairs without checking the air quality. Others drove bulldozers and other heavy equipment without training or did dangerous welding jobs without proper oversight.
Last year, a worker was sitting in his truck while it was being towed, and it flipped. The worker tried to jump to safety, but the truck landed on him and crushed him to death, according to an annual operations report from China Molybdenum.
All of it was an extreme departure from the company’s American predecessor, which had “zero tolerance” for risky activities and safety violations, according to Alfred Kiloko Makeba, the veteran safety supervisor, and 10 other current and former employees, managers and contractors.
Freeport-McMoRan, which had built the mine, had learned some hard lessons years before at its copper and gold mine in Indonesia, facing international protest over its dumping toxic mine waste into a river in the rainforest as well as violent conflicts over its operations there.
In Congo, the company had its own struggles as it moved to build Tenke Fungurume, displacing more than 1,500 residents in a haphazard process. But once the mine opened, it gained an unusual amount of respect for its commitment to worker safety, both among local officials and U.S. diplomats.
Worker safety is an issue at other industrial mines in Congo, but under Freeport, employees who violated rules were immediately disciplined or fired, safety officers said. Records examined by The Times show just one reported death among workers during the eight years Freeport-McMoRan ran the mine, although it repeatedly published accounts of near-fatal accidents as cautionary guides.
When safety inspectors discovered violations after China Molybdenum took over, they were sometimes told to overlook them, or offered bribes to do so, workers and supervisors said. And when they did try to enforce the rules, violence sometimes followed.
One safety officer said he was thrown to the ground by a worker he had called out for improperly using welding equipment. The man twisted his arm and broke his cellphone and work-issue camera.
An executive at Gécamines, the Congolese agency that is a minority shareholder in the mine, said employees had reported confrontations and safety problems to the agency’s board. Safety issues are now part of a broader review of China Molybdenum’s operations.
Mr. Zhou, the China Molybdenum spokesman, denied that any inspectors had been assaulted. The allegations, he suggested, were probably being fabricated by fired employees.
In a statement to The Times, he said the mine had “a robust occupational health and safety framework in place and continues to exercise its zero tolerance rules.” In fact, he said, “internal statistics” published in a company report this year showed that worker injuries had declined since the company took over.
But employees who said they had been repeatedly told not to report injuries believed the data was being fixed as part of a campaign to cover up rising hazards.
That suggestion, which The Times was not able to independently confirm and which China Molybdenum disputed, was crystallized for Mr. Makeba one evening last year when he received an urgent phone call. A worker at the mine had fallen from a high perch after not wearing the required safety harness, he said.
Mr. Makeba rushed to the site and was shocked to learn, he said, that the worker, who had broken his leg, had been taken to a private clinic instead of the mine’s.
Mr. Makeba said the employee told him that his supervisors had paid him to keep quiet so that it would not be reported to management, where it would show up on the company’s audited injury tally.
When Mr. Makeba alerted his own boss, he said, he was told to drop the matter.
Mr. Zhou rejected Mr. Makeba’s account, adding that “any form of cover-up in disclosures is against rules, and corporate values.”
But according to Mr. Makeba and another safety manager still working at the mine, labor conditions have become increasingly important to automakers sensitive to consumer and shareholder demands. So China Molybdenum, they said, has blocked them from reporting near fatalities and routinely ignored other injuries.
“Safety is just on paper now,” Mr. Makeba said.
Problems at Tenke Fungurume are not just limited to employees’ complaints inside the mine.
Freeport-McMoRan had struggled with trespassers who carted off bags of cobalt. Some even died when hand-dug tunnels flooded or collapsed.
With China Molybdenum in charge, the conflict became much worse.
The company, faced with thousands of newly arriving trespassers, asked the government to send soldiers to help control the situation, one executive who worked at the mine back then told The Times.
The military arrived and began patrolling Tenke Fungurume and other local mines, bulldozing depots where trespassers were selling their cobalt rocks to traders.
The troops remained for months, and the situation eventually turned deadly. A soldier at Tenke Fungurume opened fire, killing an unauthorized digger, according to an employee who told The Times he had witnessed the encounter.
Riots then erupted in the man’s home village when friends arrived carrying his body. In the melee, a protester was shot dead, according to three local officials and the mine employee.
China Molybdenum paid for the burials, they said.
Troops with AK-47s were posted outside the mine this year, along with security guards hired from a company founded by Erik Prince, the former Navy SEAL turned private security consultant.
Even as this crackdown on theft was underway, the new managers at the mine were looking for ways to cut costs while increasing production.
China Molybdenum said it had saved more than $130 million a year through its “cost and efficiency” programs. “New management revitalizes the business by bringing ‘Chinese efficiency and Chinese elements,’” the company boasts on its website.
The Rush to Expand
China Molybdenum is steadily growing its output. Last December, it snatched up Kisanfu, paying Freeport-McMoRan $550 million for what is considered one of the world’s largest untapped supplies of cobalt. The ground underneath the site contains enough cobalt, according to China Molybdenum’s estimates, to power hundreds of millions of long-range Teslas.
And then in August, China Molybdenum announced plans to spend $2.5 billion at Tenke Fungurume to double production over the next two years. When the expansion is complete, the mine will produce nearly 40,000 tons a year. Last year, the United States produced just 600 tons.
This rush to expand, however, has drawn scrutiny from top government officials in Congo, reaching all the way to Mr. Tshisekedi, the president.
Questions have surfaced over payments Tenke Fungurume’s operators may owe to Congo, dating back to when the American company controlled the mine. When new deposits are confirmed at Tenke Fungurume, the owners are required to notify Gécamines, the Congolese agency, and pay $12 for every additional ton.
The accusations have provoked a bitter dispute between Congolese officials and the mine managers, with China Molybdenum’s spokesman calling the allegations “unbelievable, wrong calculations” based on an accounting error.
Gécamines executives have discussed forcing out the management at Tenke Fungurume or even taking the mine out of China Molybdenum’s control, according to two Congolese mining executives involved in confidential discussions as well as a government officialbriefed on the talks.
Robert North, a New Mexico-based geologist who has helped prepare reserve estimates at the mine for Freeport and China Molybdenum, said both companies as well as Gécamines knew of large amounts of cobalt underground at the site. China Molybdenum has been cautious in declaring it, he said, until the company knows it wants to go to the expense of extracting the deeper layers.
Mr. Tshisekedi’s commission is still investigating the allegations, and the president himself recently presided over a tense, six-hour meeting with top company executives.
Separately, the Congolese government, with financial assistance from the United States, is examining numerous mining contracts to determine whether Congo has been shortchanged more broadly. While the Chinese-funded infrastructure projects got off to a flashy start, many have not been built, officials said.
During a visit to the cobalt-mining region this year, the president acknowledged that corrupt or incompetent government officials in Congo might deserve some blame for deals that have left the nation feeling shortchanged.
“Some of our compatriots had badly negotiated the mining contracts,” he said. “I’m very harsh on these investors who come to enrich themselves alone. They come with empty pockets and leave as billionaires.”
Chinese government officials insist that the relationship is still on track and that the benefits to Congo are substantial.
The countries have a “longstanding friendship, and the bilateral practical cooperation has yielded fruitful win-win results and enjoys broad prospects,” Zhao Lijian, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a news conference in September.
In an interview in Kinshasa, Mr. Tshisekedi said that his focus was not on which foreign power would dominate mining in Congo, but rather on how his country could share in the wealth generated by the clean energy revolution.
“We have an amazing potential for renewable energy, be it through our strategic metals or through our rivers,” he said, referring to both mining and hydroelectric power. “Our idea is, how can we put this amazing resource at the disposal of the world, but while making sure that it first benefits Congolese and it benefits Africans?”
Dionne Searcey reported from Kisanfu, Michael Forsythe from New York and Eric Lipton from Washington. Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Shanghai.